a couple years ago my wife and i were talking about creationism, and what people believe about a literal creation story. in our discussion i mentioned that people who hold to a literal, or at least somewhat literal interpretation, believe that people weren't meant to die. now, i'm not sure if anne knew that or not, or if she ever really thought about the implications of that, but she asked a question that, to this day, i have no good answer to. she asked, "but if no one died, then wouldn't the earth get overpopulated really quick?"
it's a fact that death is necessary for life. if there were no death, then much of the planet's inhabitants couldn't eat (which i guess they wouldn't need to?). and like my wife pointed out, if there were no death, not only would there be human overpopulation, but animal and plant overpopulation as well. there might not be any death, but life might be pretty miserable on such an overcrowded planet. death and life are totally interconnected. we even see this played out in the christian story-- to gain life, one must die to himself.
but wasn't death a result of the fall? some theologians would say spirtual death-- being separated from God-- was, but not physical death. i admit that this explanation, while it has some problems with the whole of scripture, seems, for me at least, to ring true. but at the same time i'm not so sure. what if we eliminated all physical death that is caused, directly and indirectly, by the activity of human beings? i wonder how much less death there would be. i wonder if people had stayed in that harmonious relationship with God, eachother and creation, if we would have continued toward a deathless-- at least for human beings-- existence. maybe we would have fulfilled our mandate to populate the planet and ceased having children.
another thought i have had is that everything seems to exist in a cycle e.g. seasons. the ancients understood this well. scripture speaks about the ages of the earth, and eternal life refers to life in the age that is to come. in other words, God made this creation, and later on there will be a new creation which inhabitants of this creation will populate. maybe this current creation is part of a cycle-- kind of like seasons-- of a whole continuous process of creations. and the first people who lived in that edenic state were aware that their life would continue on into the new creation after they died, and physical death was simply part of this creation (thus there was no fear of physical death and no need to care about an afterlife, which is what you see in the OT). maybe the death that resulted from the fall was a spirtual death that damaged the human-God relationship in such a way that humans couldn't be part of the new creation. thus salvation from death means a restoration of that relationship in order for humans to, once again, be part of that future new creation.
whether or not physical death was intended for humans, we'll probably never know. i find it incredibly problematic to imagine the current creation without any physical death. if there were no death there would be no need for A LOT of things that make this creation tick. the changes that resulted from the fall would need to be much more than labor pains, hard work, male dominancy, clothes, the end of talking animals, and snakes losing their legs.
and lastly, don't take this as a "this is what i believe" type of post. i'm just thinking out loud, throwing out ideas, and putting into print the crazy stuff that bounces around my neurons.